For a centre-left European prime minister heading towards Washington for his first, awkward, encounter with a rightwing Republican newcomer in the White House, last night's decision to bomb Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries in Iraq must have felt like an act of cruel but lucky timing.
The British-American attack will certainly help to steady nerves among military men and political analysts who have been quarrelling on both sides of the Atlantic as Tony Blair prepares to meet George Bush, scourge of Blair-Clinton third way politics, at Camp David next Friday.
There have been threats of disagreement over the EU's rapid reaction force - "European army" in tabloid-speak. Potentially far more serious is the widespread alarm in Europe over the new administration's determination to press ahead with an anti-missile defence system to protect the US (but not, initially, its allies) from attack by so-called "rogue states" such as Iraq itself.
Munthir Hamid,11, lies on a bed in Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad watched over by a member of the civil defense force, on February 16, 2001, after he was injured during a U.S. and British air strike. Iraq vowed revenge on February 17 for the attacks near Baghdad it said had killed two civilians, while Russia and China led a chorus of international concern over raids seen as threatening Middle East stability. (Faleh Kheiber/Reuters)
In reality both projects are still little more than pipe dreams as practical military propositions. National missile defence (NMD), or "son of Star Wars", is technically difficult and largely untested. The rapid reaction force - 60,000 men and women at the ready for deployment on international peacekeeping missions - lacks cash, kit and political will to bring it into being.
So a joint exercise, authorised from the British side by Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, is just what the doctor ordered as a convenient act of male bonding between two wary political leaders, one newly elected and keen to prove himself, the other soon to face the voters in search of a second term.
Since Iraq cannot yet launch missiles against Brooklyn or Bromley there is, pilots apart, no risk to them or their voters. But it is not cost-free. In the days ahead, as Saddam Hussein makes the best propaganda use he can of the attacks, cynics who have seen the film Wag the Dog will say it is little more than a figleaf exercise for that purpose alone: a US president waging war for domestic political purposes, assisted by his most reliable - and docile - Nato ally.
Too cynical perhaps. Last night the veteran leftwinger Tony Benn led immediate protests, demanding an end to the bombing. Some MPs in all parties, even thoughtful Tories, will agree with him that Blair's Britain is over-eager to prove itself as macho and as loyal to Washington as Margaret Thatcher. "Neo-colonial" is the phrase they will murmur.
But Paul Keetch, a Liberal Democrat spokesman, endorsed the raids. Most Labour MPs will acquiesce so close to an election, aware that - despite qualms - Robin Cook's Foreign Office believes that Iraq is both a persistent threat to world peace and far less impoverished by sanctions than Saddam would have us believe. Few will march to Trafalgar Square.
Even William Hague will be hard-pressed to jump on an anti-bombing bandwagon. The Tory leader has been promising to back US calls for the radar site at Fylingdales, North Yorkshire, to be upgraded to NMD specifications as a gesture of solidarity - in contrast to the Blair-Cook "wait and see" stance.
The price may well be paid in fading hopes for the tattered Middle East peace process and rising oil prices, the result of regional uncertainty, which may damage the US economy and - sooner or later - that of Europe.
Above all, it will again remind Britain's EU partners that, "if forced to choose between Europe and the open sea" (as Churchill put it) the UK will instinctively choose the open sea - and America beyond it.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001